Prospect Retro: A.J. Pierzynski
Pierzynski was drafted by the Twins in the third round in 1994, out of high school in Orlando, Florida. He showed good contact hitting skills in rookie ball, hitting .289 with just 19 strikeouts in 152 at-bats. His power was unimpressive, but he was just 17 years old and was well-regarded defensively. At this point he would be a Grade C+ prospect with higher potential.
For Elizabethton in the Appy League in 1995, Pierzynski hit .332/.373/.507, very strong hitting performance obviously. He also hit .310/.322/.464 in a 22-game trial for Fort Wayne in the Midwest League. His power looked like it was developing. Although his walk rate was low, his strikeout rate was also low. I didn't write about many short-season players in my first Minor League Scouting Notebook for STATS in '96, but nowadays Pierzynski would have rated something like a Grade B- or maybe a Grade B.
Promoted to Fort Wayne for 1996, Pierzynski hit .274/.308/.406 in 114 games. His defense was impressive, but his overall offensive production wasn't particularly hot, hampered by shaky plate discipline. His strikeout rate was low, a good marker, but his walk rate was also low, hurting his OBP and making him very dependent on his batting average. This is the pattern he would show for the rest of his career. I gave him a Grade B- in the 1997 book.
On to Fort Myers in the Florida State League for 1997. Pierzynski's '97 performance was similar to his `96: .279/.313/.405, not impressive in raw numbers but Fort Myers is a hard place to hit. His defense slipped a bit according to reports, and I dropped him to Grade C+.
Pierzynski refined his footwork in 1998, restoring his defensive reputation. He hit .297 in 59 games at Double-A New Britain, albeit without power (.392 SLG) and a very low walk rate. Promoted to Salt Lake City at mid-season, he hit just .255/.284/.409 there, very poor numbers considering the park and league context. But his glovework was impressive, and he got a cup-of-coffee in Minnesota. I gave him another Grade C+, concerned that he was stagnating offensively.
1999 was a bad season. A broken hamate bone cost him half the campaign, and even when he was healthy he hit quite poorly, just .259/.307/.316 for Salt Lake, awful numbers for that context even accounting for injury. His defense remained good, but at this point he had shown no offensive growth since A-ball, and I was quite skeptical about his ability to be a regular. I gave him a Grade C in the '00 book.
2000 was a three-way split, time spent at New Britain, Salt Lake, and Minnesota. His bat came alive, Pierzynski hitting well at all three levels including a .307/.354/.455 mark in 33 games for the Twins. I was still somewhat skeptical, raising his grade to C+ but believing that the improvement with his power was possibly illusionary. He proved me wrong by hitting over .300 as a regular in '02 and '03, with gradually increasing power.
Pierzynski's walk rate remains substandard, making his OBP highly dependent on his batting average. He grounds into a ton of double plays, and I don't think his bat is the kind that will age particularly well. Once his bat speed starts to slip, his production will probably drop off dramatically. Still, his glove will keep him employed for a long time, provided he doesn't continue to wear out his welcome in his clubhouses.
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